Friend or foe?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ever since his arrival in 1948, Paul Bowles had established himself at the centre of the Tangier literary set - his experiences there are perhaps best recorded in his autobiography, Without Stopping. Like Burroughs, he was a homosexual who had married, his wife being the precociously talented Jane Auer. Yet their initial meetings had revealed little common ground.

Bowles recalls his first encounter with Burroughs being clouded with the latter's strung-out dissolution and gun fetishism. For his part, Burroughs regarded Bowles as stuffy and reserved. To Ginsberg he labelled him "a shameless faker", whilst to Kerouac he complained: "The one time I met Paul Bowles he evinced no cordiality. Since then he has made no effort to follow up the acquaintance... He invites the dreariest queens in Tangier to tea but has never invited me, which, seeing how small the town is, amounts to a deliberate affront."

Yet after the cure their friendship came good: Bowles provided him with literary encouragement and access to Tangier society. In December 1956, Burroughs wrote to Ginsberg that Bowles was "one of the really great people I met in the last three years... Don't recall I ever met anyone I dug so quick as Bowles". It is ironic that it was through Bowles that Burroughs met Brion Gysin - another person to whom there was immediate antipathy, yet who would later become a lifelong friend.

When Bowles invited Gysin to tea with Burroughs, their conversation was awkward, stilted and competitive. "Impossible, impossible," said Gysin to Bowles. "I knew, I've seen him staggering around. He's just an old junky." It was not until several years later that these two would discover their legendary chemistry.

Bowles, part of the Tangier set

Photograph: Rex Features

The 'Priest' They Called Him: the life and legacy of William S Burroughs. By Graham Caveney (Bloomsbury, pounds 20). To buy this book for pounds 17 (inc p&p), tel 01634 297123 or see www.bloomsbury.com

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